Dvorak's pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk was a fine violinist and a modest, highly capable composer known chiefly for a charming but unadventurous Serenade for Strings composed in his teens. But Dvorak's death in 1904 inspired him to the greatest creative effort of his life – an intensely emotional, richly elaborated memorial symphony, lasting an hour and named "Asrael" for the Islamic angel of death. The emotional content of the work became intensified during its composition when Suk's wife (Dvorak's daughter), Otylka, died when she was only 27, and "Asrael" became an elegy for father and daughter. The full power of this work is felt in this recording (Virgin 7-91221-2) by Libor Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
The steady increase in recordings of his music has now established Suk as one of the great musical poets of the early 20th century. Too much is made of his affinities with his teacher and father-in-law, Dvorák; for his own part, Dvorák never imposed his personality on his pupils and Suk's mature music owes him little more than a respect for craft and an extraordinarily well developed ear for orchestral colour. His affinities in the five-movement A Summer's Tale, completed in 1909 – a magnificent successor to his profound Asrael Symphony – reflect Debussy and parallel the music of his friend Sibelius and Holst, but underpinning the musical language is a profound originality energising both form and timbre.
Mackerras's recording joins a select band: Šejna's vintage performance on Supraphon and Pešek's inspired rendition with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; his is an equal to them both and the Czech Philharmonic's playing is both aspiring and inspiring.
Joseph Suk's Ripening is one of the most amazing of all post-Romantic orchestral works. It is immensely complex in its structure: a celestial introduction is followed by a cogent progress of scherzos and slow movements, of funeral marches and fugues, all concluded by a serene coda. Yet the work is immediately comprehensible as a musical drama, made clear through the coherence of the thematic and harmonic material. Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic perform like modern-day deities. They fall short of the heights of Talich and the Czech Philharmonic, but Talich gave the work its premiere. Nonetheless, Pesek gives Ripening his very considerable all: his concentration holds the gigantic structure together as a single arch. Plus, his players articulate every instrumental detail, right down to the beatific wordless women's choir at the work's close. Highly recommended.
"…The committed playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in both works exemplifies their respect both for Belohlavek as arguably the finest interpreter of Czech music alive today and their enthusiasm for the composer's regrettably still neglected output. This SACD is a mandatory purchase for lovers of Suk's opulent scores and audiophiles alike." ~sa-cd.net
"…This new Belohlavek version gives us the best of both worlds by combining nobility of utterance and a passionate advocacy of this stirring music in glorious 5.0 multi-channel sound.
The committed playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in both works exemplifies their respect both for Belohlavek as arguably the finest interpreter of Czech music alive today and their enthusiasm for the composer's regrettably still neglected output. This SACD is a mandatory purchase for lovers of Suk's opulent scores and audiophiles alike." ~sa-cd.net
Along with the increasing frequency that Josef Suk's Symphony in C minor, Op. 27, "Asrael," is performed and recorded, it's great to see it has finally been released as a hybrid SACD. Though the legendary 1952 recording by Vaclav Talich remains the ne plus ultra for devotees of this searing symphonic requiem, it was recorded in mono, and by virtue of its technology has become a historical document that will be sought out mostly by aficionados. Newcomers to Suk's towering work will be aided in appreciation by the fact that Ondine's DSD recording is as clear and deep as always, and none of the details of the elaborate score are lost.
Julia Fischer follows her extraordinary Grammy-nominated recording of the Paganini Caprices with a contrasting album - a lyrical and poetic set of impressionistic works for violin and orchestra.